By: Bob Greenawalt
"DELUXE ROUTE TO PANAMINT BUTTE" or "NEXT TIME TRY LEMOIGNE CANYON"
I keep hearing remarks about how bad the newly-reinstated Panamint Butte challenge seems to be. I cannot agree. It only depends on the route selected! Let me tell you about a threesome outlaw knapsack jaunt I was in on over last Thanksgiving weekend, which proved to be a most welcomed experience in Death Valley National Monument hiking.
After having been a Jean Lemoigne fan for some years, I finally located his grave, as shown on the Chloride Cliff topo sheet. As a college-degreed Frenchman, he came out to help Isadose Daunet with the Eagle Borax Works, and was one of the legendary mining men of the DV scene. On one cross-valley trip around WW I days, he unfortunately perished, along with his burros, in the Valley bottom, and when later discovered, was buried on the spot.
He is to be remembered by a canyon bearing his name, the mouth of which lies about three miles west of present-day Emigrant Ranger Station. Lemoigne Canyon served as a passage through the Panamint Range on the old Skidoo-Keeler trail during the heyday of mining activity in the early l900's. It is a wonderfully-rough canyon and no place to be during wet weather, as there are several narrows with normally-dry waterfalls, which happily serve as modern-day jeep crowd eliminators.
We began a cross-country trek at Emigrant and enjoyed a turkey leg noon meal a bit up the Canyon. Wishing to see the old Lemoigne Mine locale, we took the second major left hand gulch, since his mine is NOT in his Canyon! More narrows and finally the always-high cliffs box one in, appearing as a dead end, which it is! A fine cabin is the reward, replete with unmarred window glass and hospitality. The jeep trail shown on the topo sheet had been washed out for years, however in 2986 it has come to life again. 4WDs take a beating trying to reach the cabin, but we met a Hughes-type couple occupying the building over the holidays. Their unusual hobby is that of visiting isolated desert cabins around the Mojave and trying to keep them clean and maintained. Nice gesture! Several hundred feet short of the cabin a narrow canyon leads past several old dwelling ruins and within a few minutes the rat holes and diggings appear in full view. One could spend several days in this entertaining locale! Now the climb over the summit presents a challenge to those whose knapsacks are still loaded with 1-1/2 gallons of water, but the view upon reaching the crest is astounding, and presents the range's back country to a high degree. The Panamint Butte looms up beyond a recently burned-out Joshua forest. The determined peak is easily sought and both registers need to be signed, since they are adjoining bumps, ten minutes apart. The panorama from these summits is well worth the whole preparation, I say.
The exodus led us down through the whole length of Jean's canyon, which incidentally, has a wide variety of unusual plant life. Knowing that we were again along the old Skidoo-Keeler trail(one can't get lost within this defile) we were anxious to find its being, once the huge DV display presented itself. Sure enough, it is still visible and hugs the hillside. The old trail is fairly well ducked (those assuring several-rock high markers) and there is one of the classic granitized trail signs (this one finger-points 12 miles to Cottonwood Springs) still standing unharmed, to be sure having been placed there during the early foot traveling days, and undoubtedly respected by Jean Lemoigne.
Following the ducked walk, it crosses Highway 198 lust 1.2 miles up the grade from Emigrant, at a point having a 4 ft high boulder on the west side of the road-the biggest around. We ducked the boulder and also placed one across the highway, so it can be readily spotted by DPS adventurers.
So, I claim we have one of the most delightful desert peaks on the list, but what one really needs is to take a few days off to thoroughly enjoy it. We took four! The only minus sign to this area is the probable complete lack of water, but expediently planned caches along the route can overcome this drawback. Go for Lemoigne Canyon-you'll like it!
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